The Chinese Government has reacted with fury after Australia and the US openly criticised the authoritarian regime in a joint statement following high-level talks in Washington.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds met with President Donald Trump’s top diplomat Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper this week as part of the 30th Australia–US Ministerial Consultations.
The Five Eyes allies expressed ‘deep concern’ about the communist country’s erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, their treatment of the repressed Uyghur population in Xinjiang and their ‘unlawful’ claims over territory in the South China Sea.
Beijing responded to the AUSMIN meeting with outrage and said ‘any attempt to pressure China will never succeed’.
‘We firmly reject and oppose the unfounded accusations and attacks against China on issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea made in the recent Joint Statement of Australia-US Ministerial Consultations,’ a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Australia said.
‘Their assertions, in disregard of basic facts, violated international law and basic norms governing international relations and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.’
The Chinese side reiterated they will remain ‘unwavering’ in upholding their sovereignty, security and ‘legitimate rights’.
Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have escalated significantly since Mr Morrison called for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic back in April.
Since then, China has brought in harsh trade tariffs which hit Australian farmers, including an 80 per cent tariff on barley.
Despite threatening further economic sanctions against Australia, the Chinese Embassy statement said: ‘We are firmly committed to maintaining regional peace and stability.’
‘We urge Australia not to go further on the road of harming China-Australia relations, and truly proceeding from its own interests, do more things that are conducive to mutual trust and co-operation between the two countries,’ the statement said.
At the centre of the diplomatic spat are China’s new national security laws brought in to silence pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Australia and the US said the ‘sweeping and vague’ legislation has imperiled the rule of law and undermined the rights to freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and to peaceful assembly.
Canberra has now suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong along with the UK, Canada and New Zealand and the US is also likely to follow suit.
Another major issue souring the relationship is China’s presence in the disputed South China Sea.
Beijing claims the shipping lane rich in fish and natural gas reserves as their own, but earlier this week Australia filed a motion to the United Nations declaring China’s conduct ‘unlawful’.
‘In line with the 2016 decision of the Arbitral Tribunal, they affirmed that Beijing’s maritime claims are not valid under international law,’ The AUSMIN statement said.
‘Specifically, they affirmed that the People’s Republic of China cannot assert maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the ‘nine-dash line,’ ‘historic rights,’ or entire South China Sea island groups, which are incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.’
The Communist Party’s treatment of its Muslim population in the northwestern province of Xinjiang is also driving a wedge between China and the west.
‘The US and Australia expressed deep concern over People’s Republic of China’s campaign of repression of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labor, pervasive surveillance, restrictions on freedom of religion, and reports of forced abortions and involuntary birth control,’ the joint AUSMIN statement said.